Rachel Bayne speaks to Shooey about food waste, food poverty and the multicultural hub that is Ridley Road Market. Shooey is a food writer for LovingDalston, who takes £5 down to her local market each week to cook up a scrumptious meal.
Why did you start writing this column?
“A local MP stated that poor people in Hackney didn’t have access to good food. It just got me thinking, well, we have a market that sells very good food at very low cost and that a lot of people, if they go abroad, search out markets like Ridley Road. If they go to an Arab country, or France, they look for these local food markets that sell not always seasonal food, but a lot of seasonal food.
“We have this market in Dalston, right on our doorstep.”
“I thought, take £5 and see what I can buy down at the Market and how that food would last for the week – still with being able to cook recipes for good food.”
Do you think there needs to be more education/access to cheap food in Hackney?
“No, because the market is cheap.
“A lot of people would say, oh no, people don’t actually have time to cook food. Well through history people are always short on time, but you can find time to cook food. In the end, it becomes cheaper to cook from the scratch.
“I am vegetarian, and all my recipes are vegetarian, but there are good fish stalls in the market, the butchers, if you buy mince, it’s much cheaper to buy mince than it is to buy a ready-made shepherd’s pie in a supermarket. If you go to a butcher, you can buy enough for one portion, if you’re living alone. So, I think it’s just that people don’t really stop to think about their food, they’re just so conditioned that it’s cheaper and quicker to buy something ready-made. And it’s not always true.
“I just think that there is access and if people really thought about how they cook and were willing to change the way they cook, I’d think they be surprised.”
“I paid a pound for a cabbage that’s lasted a month. That’s pretty good value, isn’t it? Or, a sack of onions cost me £1.50 and they’ve lasted me three weeks.”
“I think we’ve become a little bit used to larger portions. So, we’ve forgotten that a regular cup of coffee really is enough, you don’t need to buy a giant cup of coffee and it’s the same with food portions. You don’t really need to fill the plate, you can just think four ounces of this, and four ounces of that is enough.”
A quarter of all British adults are now obese. What do you think are the causes of this problem?
“I just think a lot of us are being conditioned into thinking we need these bigger portions.”
“In the supermarket, all the packaging adds to the cost. That does make your local market or greengrocers cheaper as you’re not paying for all that packaging.”
“I try to keep to locally grown produce.”
Some farmers assume that 20-40 per cent of their food won’t go to the market/won’t be sold. In your experience do people buy oddly grown food?
“They do buy the oddly grown fruit from the supermarket and they do buy the food that might be bruised. The market will take the rejects of the supermarket.
“I’m quite happy. If I buy a sack of onions from the market and there’s a rotten one at the bottom, well, so be it. Overall I’m winning and I think that’s the general case. Or, if the broccoli is turning a little bit yellow, well then you eat it straightaway. It’s being prepared to accept that not everything is 100 per cent perfect all of the time. Most of the time it is.
“During the war, people would look at the potato which has green in it and cut that bit off. I think, again, we’ve become conditioned by supermarkets to think that we need everything to be absolutely perfect.
“It’s lovely to walk down the market and see really odd shaped cucumbers. Really curly ones, I think well, when my dad grew them they looked like this. Well, it’s really fun! And, you slice them the same way, just because they’re in a curve, it still tastes the same. The reason the supermarkets buy them straight is for the ease of packaging.”
What is your favourite part of the market?
“There’s a fish stall and one of the chaps makes exactly the same noises as the sea gulls. He’ll call them at his closing time, which is around half past three, and all the seagulls will come and he’ll throw out all the bits of the old fish that they can’t keep any longer, like the old fish heads. He feeds the seagulls and that’s fantastic to see that.
“You’re walking through the world. It’s the world in one street.”
“But, to me it’s undervalued. Ridley Road has a lot to offer. It’s changing. It’s not patronised the way it was 40, or even 30 years ago. So there were a lot of food orientated stores and they are becoming fewer.
“The rules and regulations are changing. It’s becoming more clothes orientated. It’s becoming under-used.
Could you tell us a little about how food waste is dealt with at Ridley Road?
“There is still food waste in Ridley Road. They’re better than they were.
“If say they have some bruised avocadoes, or other fruit at the end of the day, they will put boxes down so that people can scavenge, but that’s at the end. And also, there’s a place in Hackney called Passing Clouds and they have a communal kitchen and a lot of shops and Ridley Road stall holders will give everything on Saturday that has reached its sell-by date and then on a Sunday, people will go along and volunteer cook and then open the door to people who can’t or haven’t got the facilities to cook. It aids towards the people who are short of money or maybe live somewhere they don’t have cooking facilities.
“The sell-by date really is just an insurance cover for the retailer. They should certainly go to the Salvation Army and other similar community outlets.”
“Ridley Road to me is more than just fruit and veg.”